Approaching Financialization and Culture

All too often the cultural dimensions of fmancialization are sidelined in favor of what can appear to be more substantial and material discussions of its economic, political, geographic and sociological aspects. Yet a number of authors have noted the importance of paying close attention to culture in the study of financialization, for a diversity of reasons.

Jameson’s work since the 1980s has been singularly influential in investigating not only the impact of financialization on culture, but the integration of the two. Jameson follows on and develops the bridging of two notions of culture first theorized by members of the Birmingham School credited with pioneering the field of cultural studies: on the one hand, culture as the realm of creative production, on the other culture in the anthropological sense of a complex lifeworld, a society’s remit of beliefs, rituals, social institutions and practices (McRobbie 2005). Jameson theorized postmodernism as the “cultural logic of late capitalism,” the way the rise of speculative capital shaped and was shaped by both notions of culture (Jameson 1991). Hence Jameson encourages a reading of literature, film, architecture and contemporary art as, on the one hand, symptomatic of deeper political-economic shifts and, on the other, in some ways constitutive of those shifts. Jameson has sought to maintain a deep connection between political economy and culture without falling prey to the trap of economic determinism.

Another important theorist who has sought to bridge this gap is anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, whose work has stressed the “grassroots” development of financial ideas, cultures and structures of feeling, both within the financial realm itself and also in the wider world (Appadurai 2016). For Appadurai, institutional and corporate ecosystems and the realm of daily praxis are spaces where cultures of valuation are produced in dialogue with the overarching economic system. This is as true in the offices of Goldman Sachs as it is in the slums of Mumbai. His work sensitizes us to the way that “the economy” which is being “financialized” is made up of social actors whose actions, relationships, identities and practices are, in sum, “cultural.” But, by the same token, that zones of “culture” are inexorably influenced and shaped by “the economy.”

These themes are addressed quite directly in the pioneering work of Paul du Gay and Michael Pryke, culminating in their edited collection of 2002 Cultural Economy which set forth some key terms for an exploration of (a) how “culture” (both in terms of expressive and creative works and in terms of a fabric of social life) is produced within economic fields of value and power and (b) how the realm that we understand as “the economic” is produced in substantial ways through culture (see also Thrift 2000). Such an approach necessarily puts both concepts under critical scrutiny as in some ways arbitrary or at least flexible markers of two territories which, while conventionally imagined to be very distant to one another, overlap in complex ways (see Best and Paterson 2010). This work, and that of others, has led to a thriving interdisciplinary field, notably represented in the last decade in the pages of the Journal of Cultural Economy and other periodicals.

In this vein, my definition of financialization as a cultural phenomenon implies more than simply the subordination of a distinct and discrete arena of “culture” to economic pressures. Rather, I am seeking to outline the ethos germane to and in part constitutive of the historical moment and socioeconomic processes of financialization. This is an ethos where the techniques, metaphors, dispositions, narratives, ideas, ideologies and relational practices we associate with high finance come to have purchase over a wide diversity' of other fields of practice, social life and imaginative expression (Haiven 2014a; McClanahan 2016). This ethos is characterized, in general terms, by the imperative towards speculation, monetary measurement, individualistic competition in which anything and everything of material or immaterial value is transformed into an asset to be leveraged. Importantly, as Randy' Martin (2002, 2007, 2015) argues, financialization is distinguished from commodification and monetization by' the way' it demands a transformation of the imagination towards a mapping of future potentials, the calculative activities of risk management and notions of hedging, leveraging and securitization. Financialization here appears as a habit of the imagination that reorients individuals, institutions and society at large towards the conscription of the future itself, with each actor competing to better anticipate and thereby' profit from potential trajectories of present-day activities (Haiven 2014a; Ascher 2016). The financialization of culture also names the way these tendencies are expressed not only in fields that come under the direct subordination of money (e.g. firms, public institutions, personal finances), but also in the fields of practice defined by other forms of value, such as cultural capital, social capital or subcultural capital.

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